By Doug Hissom Special to Published May 25, 2007 at 5:18 AM

Given the dearth of possible challengers, the imagination of dream match-ups for the 2008 local races are starting to emerge. Courthouse wags suggest that Milwaukee County Parks Director Susan Black is considering a run for county executive against incumbent Scott Walker.

Black was hired by Walker to run the venerable and now vulnerable parks system. Walker’s obsession with not raising taxes has taken its toll on the parks through reduced hours, higher fees and lower maintenance. He has accused Black in the past of causing deficit spending while Black has continued to try and rally public support for the parks.

Last year, Black -- under Walker’s orders -- developed a revamp of the county’s pool and water park offerings that closed most pools, something county supervisors immediately rejected. Now Walker is trying to look like a pool champion by extending hours and lowering prices. Despite the hatchet orders from the top, Black receives positive press and the former state parks director continues to earn praise from her department workers, too.

A campaign with parks as a key issue could transcend the property tax phobia that has permeated the Courthouse and the campaign trail since Tom Ament and the pension bunch was tossed out five years ago. Milwaukee people love their parks and their demise under Walker is well noted.

A race between the two would also bring fond recollections of the 1988 contest between then -- Parks Director Dave Schultz and then-County Exec Bill O’Donnell, when Schultz defeated his boss.

When first elected Walker said he would serve only one term, but, after seeing hopes for governor dashed by his Republican Party last year, he recently declared his intention to run for a full second term. He defeated former state budget director and city administrator David Riemer in 2004, with 57 percent of the vote.

Joe Klein -- who ran for exec in 2004 as a Green Party member and placed third in the three-way primary -- is currently serving in Iraq with the Army Reserves and has indicated an interest in a 2008 bid as well.

Women’s Center Merged: It turns out there was more than an eviction going on at the Milwaukee Women’s Center last weekend. It was the public beginning of the end for the Center, which operates a shelter and counseling center for battered women. Reports are that the Center, known for its gala fund-raisers with pricey ticket prices and fixings, as well as its posh office space at 611 N. Broadway and high administration costs (read salaries and overhead), is $800,000 in debt, including being six figures behind in rent.

So, it’s no surprise that the Women’s Center announced earlier this week a merger with Community Advocates, an agency more known for its work finding and keeping affordable housing for the city’s low income population. (The Center apparently spared no cost in the announcement either, employing the services of the silk-stocking PR firm of Mueller Communications to make the announcement.)

Community Advocates is essentially taking over the Women’s Center operations, but the Women’s Center will retain its name on some of them. At stake are government grant monies that go to operate the Center, while allowing the Community Advocates staff to eliminate the Center’s administrative overhead -- which had been considered extravagant by an independent audit.  Community Advocates has a $6 million budget while the Women’s Center was around $3 million, with administrative costs at one time accounting for 30 percent of that. 

The City Comptroller’s office warned in 2003 that the Women’s Center couldn’t continue operating due to overspending, calling it a “serious condition.” Staff was cut and a building sold as a result but overspending continued.

Questions were raised in 2004 about not only the Center’s finances but possible conflicts of interest. The wife of Ald. Willie Hines works at the center as well as his mother-in-law, who also happens to be the mother-in-law of Steve Mahan, the city’s administrator of block grant funds, from which the center received millions of dollars over the years. The bulk of the center’s funding comes from government grants. The two women are still listed as staff at the Women’s Center.

Woes for Chairman Witkowiak: Heading up the busiest committee on the Milwaukee Common Council for the past three years seems to be taking its toll on the patience of chairman Ald. Jim Witkowiak. The once-a-month meetings often last 10 hours even with members skipping a lunch break and instead dashing off to the side room for a quick fix of food while the meetings continue. Witkowiak has also been relieved of his duty on the Council’s powerful Finance Committee to a post on a committee with a lower workload.

Witkowiak has been in this position before during his last stint on the Council in the 1990s and he certainly runs a better meeting than did his predecessor Ald. Jim Bohl, who was more inclined to give lengthy orations on moral turpitude and lecture from the chair about whatever virtue he found appropriate at the time. As a result, Bohl’s meetings dragged interminably.

But the chairman has increasingly been losing his tolerance for the argumentative atmosphere that bar debates bring to the table. Neighbors are wont to complain and owners are wont to exaggerate their contributions to the neighborhood and their efforts to quell controversy. Some try to just plead ignorance. But the finger-pointing seems to have gotten to Witkowiak and each meeting the threats to shut the hearings down until everyone behaves seem to come more frequently.

But last week he had enough during a heated hearing for the proposed Industry Lounge, 1013 N. Old World 3rd St., which was planned for a space whose previous operators oversaw the murders of two of their patrons on the street. With attorney Michael Whitcomb representing the hopeful owner and Ald. Bob Bauman plying his lawyerly skills as an opponent, the tit-for-tat contention ended up in a spat over what’s heresy and what’s not. Witkowiak, hiding his frustration perhaps by holding both hands over his face, sighed, slapped the gavel twice and simply said, “break time.”

Sixteen minutes later the committee re-adjourned with Witkowiak warning those testifying that they could speak only when he allowed them to. “I’m not trying to be a jerk here, I’m trying to run an organized meeting,” he said.

Industry Lounge faced opposition from the Westown Association and the Third Street Association since previous incarnations, Shangri-La, TNA Coyote’s and Visions had patrons that created problems on the street. The committee voted to deny the license.

Barnacle Bud Heads Inland: Gene McKiernan, the Santa-looking owner of Barnacle Bud’s, that hidden gem of Margaritaville on the KK River, is heading further ashore for a new venture. McKiernan will open McKiernan’s at 2066 S. 37th St. as sort of an English-style pub for the working class.

The area is surrounded by the resurgent industrial park of West Milwaukee as well as a boatload of workers from Harnischfeger, the Journal Sentinel printing plant and Froedtert Malt. There’s also the distinct possibility for some baseball traffic on game-day. McKiernan said serving food is foreseeable in the future. Let’s hope he brings the grouper from Bud’s menu over, as well.

Doug Hissom Special to
Doug Hissom has covered local and state politics for 20 years. Over the course of that time he was publisher, editor, news editor, managing editor and senior writer at the Shepherd Express weekly paper in Milwaukee. He also covered education and environmental issues extensively. He ran the UWM Post in the mid-1980s, winning a Society of Professional Journalists award as best non-daily college newspaper.

An avid outdoors person he regularly takes extended paddling trips in the wilderness, preferring the hinterlands of northern Canada and Alaska. After a bet with a bunch of sailors, he paddled across Lake Michigan in a canoe.

He lives in Bay View.